HONG KONG SETS NEW SARS QUARANTINES



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Last Updated

10 Apr 2003

Source: Associated Press, April 10, 2003

Hong Kong Sets New SARS Quarantines

By HELEN LUK, Associated Press Writer

HONG KONG (AP) -- Hong Kong said Thursday it will quarantine for up to 10 days anyone who resides with a confirmed SARS patient, in a tough measure to halt the spread of a disease that has killed 30 and sickened almost 1,000 in this city alone.

Hours earlier, Hong Kong had reported three more deaths from severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, and China had raised its death toll by two to 55. Most of the at least 111 SARS deaths worldwide have been in China and Hong Kong. Fatalities also have been reported in Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Canada.

Hong Kong Health Secretary Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong said the quarantine measure was going "one step further to help contain the spread of the disease," but that the decision had been difficult because of a divergence of views on restricting people's freedoms.

Health Director Dr. Margaret Chan said police will make sure people don't violate the quarantine by making unannounced visits to their homes.

"This is not a foolproof system," Chan told a news conference. "The key is based on self-regulation plus checks on compliance."

Anyone who does not comply with the order will be removed to designated places for isolation, and they could be fined or imprisoned, Chan said.

The health officials declined to predict how soon they can bring SARS under control or how many people will be affected by the new restrictions.

People who don't want to stay at home, or elderly people who cannot, will be able to use alternative housing, including outdoor recreation camps that had previously been set up as makeshift quarantine centers for some 240 people from an apartment building that suffered a severe SARS outbreak.

Some of those people started going home on Wednesday after showing no signs of SARS, which has infected 998 people in Hong Kong.

Yeoh said the use of the quarantine camps, under a law dating to colonial days to curb the spread of infectious diseases, showed that Hong Kong can support such isolation measures, despite the hardship it poses.

The Department of Health will provide checkups for those in quarantine.

Yeoh said the policy was being introduced to facilitate early detection and treatment and to reduce to a minimum the risk of the spread of SARS.

Those under quarantine will not be allowed to go out except "under exceptional circumstances."

On Thursday, China raised its death toll by two, but the new figure did not appear to include an American teacher who died after falling ill in the hard-hit southern province of Guangdong.

The teacher was pronounced dead Wednesday in Hong Kong after being taken there from Guangdong in what a friend contended was an attempt by Chinese authorities to avoid the embarrassment of another foreigner's death on the mainland. Hong Kong, though a part of China, reports its deaths from the disease known as SARS.

Beijing has been accused of trying to conceal information about the outbreak that first surfaced in the southern mainland in November.

James Salisbury, a 52-year-old English instructor at a polytechnic institute in China, already appeared dead Wednesday when he was wheeled into an ambulance in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, according to the friend, David Westbrook, who was with Salisbury and had been in contact with doctors about his condition.

Westbrook said mainland Chinese doctors had moved him so there would not be another death of a foreigner from SARS in the mainland.

A Guangdong provincial health official on Thursday disputed that contention.

"We wanted to keep him in Shenzhen, but at the request of his family, we moved him to Hong Kong, where he died," said Zhong Nanshan, an epidemiologist at the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases.

The World Health Organization warned Thursday that many Beijing hospitals were not making daily reports on SARS cases and authorities were not systematically tracing people who had contact with those infected.

That could let the disease spread still further, said the report prepared by investigators who visited Beijing and Guangdong. The team also cautioned in the report posted on WHO's Web site that poorer regions of China may lack the resources to cope with the disease.

Elsewhere in Asia, governments invoked new precautions to contain SARS, which has infected some 2,700 people. Authorities believe it is spreading via air travel, and health workers at airports throughout Asia are checking arriving passengers for the symptoms of fever, aches, dry cough and shortness of breath.

Malaysia started denying visas to most Hong Kong people. Taiwan said medical staff would quarantine arriving travelers found to have a fever.

In Singapore, Manpower Minister Lee Boon Yang said that over the next month all foreign workers arriving from SARS-stricken areas will be quarantined for 10 days.